by Sharp Quill

Chapter 1: 1. Showtime!

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“Let’s spin!” Stephen Colbert pulled with gusto the giant, fake lever by his side. The studio audience erupted in cheers as the Wheel of News, projected onto the dome of the Ed Sullivan Theater, rapidly spun. Food. Religion. Clip Without Context. Politics. Commercial Break. News. Buy A Vowel. The clicking sounds ground to a halt. “Ponies!”

Hundreds of bronies filling the theater went crazy, many of them dressed up as their favorite characters. Everyone had to go through thorough security checkpoints.

In the green room, just off stage, Meg sat on her haunches, watching the live feed on a monitor, her ears locked onto the speakers. Twilight and Agent Jessica Fowler, now of the Secret Service, watched beside her. The Late Show host was signaling the audience to quiet down, to little effect.

“Just wait till they actually see you,” Meg commented, her wings shifting with nervous energy.

“Still not as bad as my coronation.” She almost sounded convincing.

The audience finally settled down, perhaps if only because they wouldn’t get to see what they had come for if they hadn’t.

Colbert began the scripted introduction. “Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard that certain colorful ponies, of the magical persuasion, might be real. Perhaps the joint news conference held a few weeks ago by President Serrell and a lavender ‘alicorn’ was evidence to that effect—I don’t know. Certainly, people smarter than I think it was a hoax and are calling for Serrell’s impeachment.”

Stephen clasped his hands together and stared at the camera with deadly mock seriousness. “We at The Late Show are determined to get to the bottom of this. Sparing no expense, we have located the foremost expert on this pony phenomenon, and…” He stood up and faced stage right. “Without further ado, here she is!”

The band started playing the My Little Pony theme song. Meg gave Twilight a hoof bump for good luck and the alicorn teleported directly to the seat to the host’s left, giving the audience a huge smile and a hoof wave.

The audience went crazy. That being his cue, Colbert turned around and feigned shock at her inexplicable appearance.

“I sure hope they stay in their seats,” Fowler said.

“It’s not like they can hurt her,” Meg said, “even if one of them did manage to sneak a gun inside.”

“We’d still have to make arrests and fill out a lot of paperwork.”

“All on camera, too.” As if the protests outside the theater weren’t bad enough.

Stephen had taken his seat. Once the theater had gone silent, they began the rehearsed routine. Full of innocence, Twilight said, “I’ve heard you have questions about ponies.”

Light laughter. That warm-up comedian sure did his job, Meg thought, though considering this crowd he didn’t have to work very hard. They were primed to laugh at anything resembling a joke.

“Yes, I do,” he declared. “Are ponies real?”

The pony across from him blinked. “Is that so hard to believe?” Twilight asked, following the script. “Did you not once interview a full grown dragon?”

“On the old show, yes,” he admitted. “It wasn’t easy… it required lots of what we call ‘movie magic.’”

A Late Show mug floated off the desk. Engulfed in a lavender glow, it drifted over to the alicorn. Twilight took a leisurely drink from the conspicuously hovering mug. “Magic. Dragons. I don’t see what the big deal is.” The mug returned to the desk the way it came, to laughter and applause.

“Well… how can I put this… the dragon was fake.”


“As in, a special effect. No one in the live studio audience could see Smaug in the flesh, I couldn’t see him—well, we could see him on the monitors, but the point is he doesn’t actually exist.” Scattered grumbles from the audience. “I know, shocker.” He turned back to Twilight. “Dozens of people put in long hours to create the illusion of a living, breathing dragon that could only be seen on TV.

“And here’s the thing: many people watching this at home will think you are a fake, a fictional character brought to life by special effects.”

“But I’m not fictional,” she countered, “You can see me.” She swept a hoof across the studio audience. “They can see me,” she said, to thunderous applause and cat-calls.

The monitors switched to the audience for a few seconds.

Too bad cameras and recording devices aren’t allowed. The flood of pictures and video uploaded to the internet would have been that much harder to dismiss. They had tried to negotiate an exception to that ban just this one time, but the network wouldn’t hear of it; if people were going to see this online, it had to be on the show’s website.

“They’ll do whatever we tell them,” Colbert replied, dismissively. “I’ll prove it.” He looked up at the audience. “Say, ‘friendship is magic,’” he commanded.

Cut to the audience. “FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC!”


Surprisingly, there was much truth to the host’s claim. Meg had watched the warm-up comedian at work. One of the things he had done was to have the audience practice saying that phrase in unison. I guess we’ll find out soon enough how many think this was all faked.

“Impressive,” Twilight said.

“Indeed,” he concurred. “You say you aren’t a fictional character…”

“That’s right.”

“But how do I know you aren’t a fraud, an impostor claiming to be the fictional Twilight Sparkle?”

“Seriously?” she said, looking askance. “You think I might be a human in a costume?”

“Or a remote controlled robot. The technology exists to build some pretty impressive shit these days.”

Standards and Practices just earned their paychecks. For once, Meg got to hear the actual word instead of a bleep.

The alicorn responded with smugness. “Can one of your robots do this?”

From behind the chair a Rainbow Dash plush doll levitated up and over. Twilight sent it rocketing through the theater, doing loop-de-loops over the audience, just out of reach of grasping hands. Eventually she allowed it to caught by someone.

Meg wondered if it would turn up on eBay; that’d be ironic, considering that’s where she had bought it.

“So far so good on the magic generators,” Fowler observed.

Several had been placed at various points about the theater, as much as a precaution as to enable stunts like that. It gave the alicorn far greater freedom of action should it become necessary.

The feed returned to host and guest. “I’m here, sitting right next to you, and I still find it a little hard to believe. That first time you teleported in rehearsal… I nearly had a heart attack.”

“I find that curious. It’s hardly a secret I can teleport.”

“Knowing it… and seeing it… besides, that’s cartoon physics; it should be impossible in the ‘real’ world.” He actually air-quoted the word “real.”

“I thought we just agreed my world is as real as yours,” she jokingly replied, to scattered laughter.

“That may be,” he countered, not missing a beat, “but that doesn’t mean the laws of physics are the same in both worlds.”

“As it turns out, they are the same—my body couldn’t exist here unless it was composed of the same subatomic particles following the same physical laws as yours—but there is an important difference.” She looked nervously at the audience. “How eggheady do you want me to get?”

The roars of encouragement was nearly deafening even backstage. Were you really worried about that, Twilight? Meg wondered. What was about to be explained would become mandatory viewing by scientists and others in the days to come.

“Well, yes, anyway…” She waited for everyone to quiet down. “That important difference is, of course, magic. From the research I’ve done, it appears that magic is a part of your mythology, definitely a part of your fiction, but isn’t actually believed to be real. At best, it’s supernatural, outside the laws of physics.

“That isn’t true, of course. Magic is completely natural and obeys a set of laws, just like the other fundamental forces of nature.” She smiled. “I dedicated my life to studying those laws; it’s my special talent, after all.”

“You’ve set up a magic field in this theater. Should I be worried? It won’t give me cancer, or a third eye or anything, will it?”

“Absolutely not! A passive magical field, in the absence of any spells, has no—”

Agent Fowler grabbed the remote and switched over to CNN. Meg didn’t object; the lecture Twilight was giving was old news to her.

The news channel was covering the protests outside the theater, as they had been doing for hours. That they hadn’t prevented Twilight from getting inside did nothing to discourage them. Meg was willing to bet they’d stay precisely as long as the camera crews.

The protesters were a very mixed lot, judging from the signs they carried. Some claimed it was all a massive hoax, at best a publicity stunt to sell toys. Others believed Twilight was grown in a lab, the product of a government conspiracy involving genetic engineering. A small contingent espoused the belief that magical ponies were the devil’s spawn. Then there were some who warned of the coming Conversion Bureau.

Whatever their beef, the protesters were being orderly about it. No violence, no attempt to storm the theater, just holding up signs and chanting for the cameras. So long as they stayed outside, they were the NYPD’s problem.

Fowler switched back to the internal feed.

“—it, exactly? How do you get here?”

“Well, it’s not that far away, actually, much closer than your own moon. It’s just in a direction you can’t perceive.”


“I guess we’re in what you’d call a ‘pocket universe’ that’s sort of off to the side of this universe, embedded within the infinite hyperspatial void that contains all universes.”

“And how did you arrive here? Is there… a magical train that connects us?”

“No, nothing like that. I don’t think that’s even physically possible. The void is an incredibly alien place. The symmetry breaking that precipitated the fundamental forces of nature, including magic, hasn’t happened there.”

“I’ll pretend I understood that.”

“You can call it an extreme form of teleportation,” she continued, ignoring the light-hearted jab. “It requires incredibly high-level magic. For now, unfortunately, that means very few can make the trip.”

“So we shouldn’t expect to see groups of ponies on sightseeing tours anytime soon.”

“Nor should humans expect to plan a vacation in Equestria anytime soon either.”

Groans from the audience.

“Have any humans set foot in Equestria?”

“A very few, yes.”

Should have been more specific about the timeframe, Stephen, Meg thought facetiously. Those humans, the ones they’d found in the catacombs thanks to Daring Do, would remain highly classified for a long, long time.

“Anyone we might know?”


“How about myself? I happen to know myself quite well.”

“Not that I’m aware of.”


“But I did bring some pictures of Ponyville and my friends with me. Would you like to see them?”

The audience cheered as Agent Fowler switched the monitor back to CNN. A panel of talking heads were busy pretending to offer insight into the protests, as a live feed of the protesters occupied a small square to the upper right. At the moment they were discussing conversion bureaus and why they would be bad for humanity.

“Idiots,” Meg muttered.

“Well, you’d have to admit they would be bad for humanity, if they existed.”

Meg glared at Fowler. “So would a neutron star on a collision course with the Earth, if that existed.” The pegasus sighed. “Sorry, it’s just so stupid. The preconditions of that story haven’t even happened. Equestria has not been transported to our world, magic is not lethal to humans, millions of humans cannot be turned into ponies via a serum, and a civilization of magical ponies wouldn’t fare well against a technologically advanced world that also happens to be a magical desert.”

“Hey, you’re preaching to the choir,” she said in self-defense.

“Not to mention the real Celestia can’t imagine why anyone would think she’d do such a thing, even if it were possible.”

Fowler grimaced. “She knows about that, huh?”

“I was the one who had to explain it to her.”


Meg walked over to the table full of snacks. “Oh, she’s not going to declare war over that.” She selected a few bags of sugar- and fat-filled snacks and put them in her saddlebag. “If there’s one advantage to being an immortal ruler, it’s that it helps put everything into perspective.”

Fowler looked at her saddlebags.

“It’s for Pinkie Pie.”


Meg stepped away from the table. “I should be back in a few minutes.”

She invoked the return spell, glad that the silly click-rear-hooves-three-times part had been eliminated—not by Discord, but by Twilight. The alicorn had made some progress in reverse engineering the chaos magic of those plaid pills. Now if she could just do something about that taste…

She returned to Twilight’s private residence within her castle. A small herd gathered around the big screen TV showing, unfortunately, streaming video from CNN. It hadn’t been possible to provide a feed from inside the theater. Everypony would have to wait until the show airs late that night, just like everyone else. She saw Spike, the other Element Bearers, Sunset Shimmer, and…


Not only was Celestia there, but so was Luna. Both watching the TV.

“Hey, everypony.”

Rainbow Dash was instantly in Meg’s face. “Is she alright?!”

Spike turned down the volume on the remote.

“Yes, Dash, Twilight’s fine. Right now she’s showing the pictures I took.”

“Well, darling, you have to admit these images look rather disconcerting.”

The cameras seem to be focusing on the “conversion bureau” protesters. “Must be giving them the highest ratings,” Meg muttered.

“Do you still recommend I refrain from making a reassuring statement?” Celestia asked.

Meg groaned inside. “All it would do is keep this story in the news. It won’t change anyone’s mind.” Meg looked at the screen. The same talking heads as before, saying the same things as before. They weren’t there to be persuaded by the other side while on camera. “It’ll all be forgotten once they have something else to fixate on.”

“Would it help if my sister refrained from opening these ‘conversion bureaus?’”

Celestia gave Luna a sharp look, then both broke out in giggles.

“Yeah, sure, it is my expert opinion that would help.”

They giggled even louder.

Sunset Shimmer made her way over to Meg. “I assume we should be leaving soon?”

“Yeah, must be in the commercial break by—oh, right, almost forgot.” She opened her saddlebag and tossed the junk food over to Pinkie Pie, who eagerly caught them and formed a small pile to her side.

After she’d tossed the last one, she found one of Discord’s plaid pills floating in front of herself. Celestia had sent one over to Sunset too. “Are you sure?” she asked the unicorn.

Sunset nodded.

They both took a pill, and Meg brought Sunset back to the green room.

“There you are!” At the door, a staff member swiped his brow in relief. “You’re on in ninety seconds.” The band’s trademark New Orleans jazz drifted in from the stage.

He looked at Sunset with increasing irritation.

Meg leaned in to her. “You’re supposed to follow him, then wait just off-stage for your cue.”

“Oh. Right.” She followed him out the door.

“I did try to explain,” Fowler said. “For some reason he thought Sunset’s appearance was confirmed.”

Whatever. It’s not as if Twilight hadn’t been clear that Sunset might be available. At least her possible appearance hadn’t been publicized; the audience was about to get a pleasant surprise. On the monitor, Meg saw the guy go up on stage and over to Colbert, presumably to tell him Sunset was there, then quickly departed. The host then leaned over to Twilight, who then nodded.

At some signal unseen on the monitor, the pause for a commercial break came to an end. The music concluded.

“And, we’re back! For those of you just tuning in, my guest for the entire show tonight is someone—”

“Somepony,” Twilight corrected, to knowing audience chuckles.

“Somepony who, until a few weeks ago, everyone thought was a fictional cartoon character, the Princess Twilight Sparkle. I hope we can get to that later. But first I’d like to introduce another Equestrian you might be familiar with. Please give a warm welcome to Sunset Shimmer!”

The unicorn walked onto the stage the traditional way, forgoing teleportation. If the bronies in the audience were surprised a human had not walked out, they did a good job hiding it. Sunset didn’t seem to know what to make of the adoration and switched to a trot, the faster to take her seat next to Twilight.

“I must admit I half-expected a human,” Stephen said.

“I returned home from that mirror realm nearly a year ago, at Princess Celestia’s request.”

“After the events of Rainbow Rocks, right?”

Twilight intercepted the question. “Now might be a good time to talk about the distinction between those cartoons and reality.”

“I’m listening.”

“Well… it’s true that the first four seasons of that cartoon are a disturbingly accurate documentary of my life and of my friends’—and before you ask, I still have no idea how that’s possible—but they’re not completely accurate. There are numerous little errors and a few big ones. That first Equestria Girls movie played especially loose with the facts. But Rainbow Rocks, and the fifth season so far, are pure fiction. I have no explanation for that, either.”

“Is there a Starlight Glimmer?”

“No, and believe me, we’ve conducted an exhaustive search for her and that alleged town of hers.” Twilight sighed. “Here’s a difference between fiction and reality: What she did in that episode, kidnap a princess and do bodily harm by removing her cutie mark, is treason against the crown. We’re supposed to believe, I guess, that Princess Celestia would never noticed that ‘I’ had vanished. Or that Discord would never notice the same had happened to Fluttershy. I don’t know about you, but that breaks suspension of disbelief for me.”

“What about Tree Hugger?” someone yelled from the audience.

“Sorry, she doesn’t exist either.”

Colbert waited for the sounds of disapproval to die down. “Is there anything in the eight episodes so far of this season that’s not fiction?”

Twilight thought it over for a moment. “Well, Discord did bring the Smooze to the Grand Galloping Gala as his plus-one—but only because he got the idea from that episode.”

“Should I worry he might make an unplanned appearance?” he asked only half-jokingly. Murmurs floated in from the audience.

“Unplanned is kind of his thing,” she replied, smirking. “But you needn’t worry. He can’t exist in this realm. The laws of physics are too inflexible for him.”

“But if I were ever to do this show in Equestria…”

“That’s the risk you’d have to take.”

“Still might be worth it for sweeps week.” He looked around Twilight. “And I haven’t forgotten about you,” he said to Sunset Shimmer. “Tell us what you’ve been up to for the past year.”

Agent Fowler once again switched the monitor to CNN. It was more of the same. Meg tuned it out as she went over to the snacks, this time to pick something out for herself.

“You’ve met Discord, right?” Fowler asked her.

Meg paused in front of a bowl of chips and nearby bean dip. “Several times.”

“How dangerous is he, really?”

“He is reformed, but he can still be a pain.” She took a bite. “So long as you can put up with that, he’s mostly harmless, now, I guess. He’s never boring, that’s for sure.”

“Should we be worried about the Smooze?” She shook her head. “Damn. I still can’t believe I’m asking questions like that.”

Meg finished off another dip-laden chip first. “I doubt he can exist in our universe either, not that I know for sure. But he doesn’t seem that bad, really.”

“You’ve met him?”

“Steve and I were at that Gala. Wait, I got a picture.”

Meg lifted the limb to which her phone was strapped and started searching through the photos. “Yup, here it is.” She held her forelimb out.

Fowler got down on her knees to look. “Purple, not green,” she observed. “That’s a really nice gown you’re wearing.”

“A Rarity original,” Meg said, smiling.

“You sure are getting the full Equestrian experience. I’m jealous.”

“Yeah, well, that particular experience included Discord taking me somewhere in the Everfree, at night, next to a pack of timberwolves.”

“He what?!”

“I survived,” Meg droned, “obviously. Like I said, he can be a pain—figuratively, in this case, I assure you. My fault for not being more specific when I requested a private conversation.”

Fowler considered that. “Somehow I don’t think it’d matter how specific you were. It’s like that movie Bedazzled. No matter how thoroughly specified the wish, the Devil always found a loophole.”

“You may be right. Anyway, that’s where he told me that ‘Smoozie’ hadn’t consumed an entire village in at least a millennium.”

“A whole millennium? Well, no problem then.”

“Yeah, I know. That was kinda my reaction too.”

“Guess it pays to get on their good side. Sure don’t want them as enemies.”

“And the Princess of Friendship is on the case, I can assure you.”

“‘Princess of Friendship.’” She rolled her eyes. “That still sounds so corny.”

“I know what you mean, but don’t tell her that.”

The agent got back on her feet and Meg returned her attention to the veggie platter.

That wasn’t there before.

Next to the platter was a sheet of paper. Printed on it were rows of pairs of hexadecimal digits, obviously a binary dump of some sort, covering most of the page. At the top…

“Jessica, you better get over here.”

She lost no time in doing so. “Why? What’s the problem?”

Meg pointed at the sheet of paper. “Please tell me this is a joke.” She scowled. “A really bad joke.”

The agent leaned over and read the sentence at the top of the sheet. It was short and simple. “It’s time for you to know: Twilight knows more about The Doll than she’s let on.” She looked at Meg. “If this is a joke, it’s not mine.”

“I swear it wasn’t there a minute ago.”

“Who could’ve put it there? It’s just us.”

Meg went airborne, hovered over the sheet, and took a close picture of it with her phone. “Magic could be involved, but… it doesn’t make any sense! That doll is as classified in Equestria as it is here, and nopony should have access to those pills, certainly nopony who’d do this!”

“What about that hexadecimal stuff?”

Meg studied it. “Looks like random junk to me. Maybe compressed or encrypted? I dunno.”

“Could Discord pull this off?”

She considered that. “I guess that can’t be ruled out, but binary data? That doesn’t sound like him.”

“Who would know what Twilight really knows about that doll, and would also know what you don’t know?”

Meg shrugged. “Beats me. Celestia, I guess. But if Celestia wanted me to know this, she’d simply tell me, or have Twilight tell me.” Her eyes returned to the sheet. “Still doesn’t explain the binary dump.”

Fowler wandered across the room. “And yet the list of human suspects is rather short, too.”

Meg sighed. “That’s an understatement.”

The agent returned to the table and carefully slid an edge of the sheet off the table with a napkin, then picked it up with that napkin. “I’ll run it through forensics. Won’t be easy, due to the sensitive nature of what’s printed on it, but I’ll see what I can do. I recommend not mentioning this to anyone or anypony for now.”

“Go for it.” After a moment’s thought, she added, “Take one of the magic generators with you. That should preserve any magical trace, if we decide to go that route.”

Next Chapter: 2. Cat's out of the Bag Estimated time remaining: 11 Hours, 39 Minutes
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